A Briton who has been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of terror offences after fleeing Syria previously spoke to reporters about his attempt to escape the clutches of Islamic State, it has emerged.
The Guardian revealed on Wednesday that Stefan Aristidou had this week surrendered to authorities in the Turkish town of Kilis, about three miles from the Syrian border.
Aristidou, who grew up in Gordon Hill, Enfield, north London, went missing in April 2015 at the age of 20, after going to Cyprus, where he was last seen.
Neighbours told the Guardian he had started attending a mosque and adopting Islamic dress in the months before he left the large semi-detached UK house he shared with his mother and sister. Another neighbour described him as a “quiet, unassuming, boy”.
On Thursday Sky News revealed that it had interviewed Aristidou by phone in March when he was on the run from Isis-controlled Mosul, in northern Iraq, and hiding in Syria.
In the interview he insisted he had joined Isis to live under sharia law and not to fight. He denied he was a fighter on the run. “At the end of the day, I am just trying to get my life back,” he told Sky News.
He said that members of the militant group who said they did not want to fight were sent to a “camp of repentance” for reconditioning. “It’s kind of like, ‘we can do what we want with you’, and you are in no position to say no. It’s not a test, there is no escape, it’s a prison,” he said.
Aristidou is understood to have told Turkish authorities that he had gone to Syria not to fight with any group but to “settle” in Raqqa. The city is the de facto capital for Isis. Sources said he had spent more than two years in areas controlled by Isis. He was picked up with a British woman of Bangladeshi origin, identified as his wife, who is understood to have been released. An American, Kary Klemen, was also detained.
In England, Aristidou had lived with his mother, Maria, a complementary therapist working towards a PhD, and his sister Stasia, who works for an oil company. The family have lived in the semi-detached house for more than 20 years. His father, Aristos, who works for a telecoms utility firm, moved out of the family home after he and his wife separated, and lives in London.
A spokeswoman for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are in contact with the Turkish authorities following the detention of a British man on the Turkey/Syria border.”
Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Isis and trying to enter Turkey. About 850 so-called foreign fighters have gone from the UK to Syria and Iraq to fight with Isis or other jihadi groups, such as al-Nusra Front. In some cases people have gone to join the civil war against the regime of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. It is believed that about half of those fighters have returned to the UK and about 200 have died.